Nature Column: Wake-up call on Lake Mead

Last Friday night, a couple of friends and I got a real serious wake-up call while fishing near South Cove on Lake Mead.

Dan Reed, Jay Chan and I were participating in the annual United Professional Fire Fighters of Kingman Fishing Tournament that was headquartered out of South Cove.

After checking in the largemouth bass we had caught on Friday afternoon with the tournament weighmaster, we decided to head out for some nighttime striper fishing.

It was dark and the wind was blowing slightly from the southwest as we left the South Cove. This is the typical weather condition for the area.

We could see a number of white lights in the distance - obviously other striper fishermen who had floating lights out around their boats.

As we were traveling towards Hualapai Bay I was alarmed to hear both Chan and Reed suddenly yell out, "Don, there is a boat coming straight at us!"

I looked to the left and, sure enough, a boat was bearing down on us at an almost 45 degree angle.

In this situation, the U.S. Coast Guard Rules of the Road state that the boat going straight in a channel (stand on vessel) has the right of way. The crossing vessel (give way vessel) is supposed to yield the right of way.

However, seeing that a collision was imminent, I made an emergency maneuver by trying to stop our boat and shifting the boat into reverse.

That action caused our boat to be slammed by a huge wave coming over the back of the boat, but we avoided a collision.

The other boat, with two adults and two kids in it, passed directly in front of us, missing us by just a few precious yards.

I was shaking as I realized how close we had come to becoming involved in a serious if not fatal boating accident.

What was that operator thinking? I don't know, but one thing was for sure - he wasn't following the rules of the road and the end result almost caused a serious collision.

But the danger that night didn't end there.

After an hour of fruitless striper fishing, and with the wind starting to pick up, we decided to call it quits and head back to South Cove.

When we reached the main bay at the mouth of Virgin Canyon, we were surprised to feel that the wind seemed to have picked up even more and there were some fairly high swells.

The further down the lake we traveled towards South Cove, the higher the swells became. Unbeknownst to us, a storm that was supposed to hit on Saturday was coming through early, and we were now in the middle of it with all its fury.

As we went over one swell the back of my 18-1/2-foot boat was literally picked up and thrown into the swell in front of us.

Water cascaded at least five feet over the bow and came crashing down upon us.

Now completely wet and with lots of water in the boat, once again the danger factor was apparent.

We were in the middle of a large, open basin, and in an angry stormy sea.

By the time we worked our way back to South Cove, the lake had turned into an endless series of boiling, thrashing swells with white-topped waves crashing all around us.

The waves had ripped the newly installed boat dock at South Cove from the bottom of the lake where it had been anchored and it would eventually be thrown unceremoniously onto the shoreline.

The plan was for Jay to back the trailer in the lake while Dan and I would load the boat onto the trailer.

Due to the dropping water levels on Lake Mead, the water is very low at the launch/recovery area at South Cove. There is just one small channel for boaters to use.

As I tried to maneuver the boat in the small channel, a huge wave picked up the boat and literally slammed it on top of the island that is inside the launch site.

The boat came to a grinding stop and then wave after wave came over the back of the boat, quickly filling it with water.

Reed acted quickly when he jumped out of the boat onto the island and pushed the boat back into the channel. I was finally able to start the engine and drive the boat onto the trailer.

By this time, Reed and I were completely soaked and the southwest winds were still howling at over 40 mph!

Even with the bilge pump on and the drain plug pulled from the boat, it took almost 10 minutes before the water leaving the boat slowed to a trickle.

The bottom line was we had been lucky. Twice that night we had dodged trouble that could have left us seriously injured or worse.

The boat sustained minimal damage in the ordeal but all in all it could have been much worse.

Next time you go out, think about what we experienced. If you're the captain of the boat, learn the rules of the road and follow them.

Watch the weather and don't take unnecessary chances.

Remember, "Safe boating is no accident!"